The holidays are upon us, and for some, that means out-of-town visitors. Aunts, uncles, friends, and family, when they come to Colorado, they want to experience some of the state’s legendary beauty. But the season is late and many of your favorite trails and other spots are snowed-in. Fear not, because we’ve compiled a list of great places to take your holiday guests to experience all that Colorado has to offer. You’ve probably been to them before if you live nearby, but experience them all over again through the eyes of loved ones, and these 15 places in Colorado will seem completely new.
If you live near Colorado’s Eastern Plains…
1. Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site
Experience what it was like to be a trader on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1840s, when Colorado was still an expanse of largely unmapped wilderness.
2. Paint Mines Interpretive Park
This geological curiosity is tucked among the rolling prairie of eastern El Paso County, with bizarre rock formations that mind remind of the national parks of Utah.
3. Pawnee Buttes
Located in Pawnee National Grassland in Weld County, these two buttes tower 300 feet over the plains, with a hiking trail that offers long views and wildlife-viewing opportunities.
If you live along Colorado’s Front Range…
4. Pikes Peak
Depending on snow, in some autumns you can drive the Pikes Peak Highway all the way to the 14,115-foot summit. Even if you can only go partway up, your visitors will marvel at the beauty of this drive.
5. Loveland Pass
The highest year-round pass in Colorado tops out at 11,990 feet, offering amazing mountain views just an hour’s drive from Denver.
6. Estes Park, Colorado
This tourist town is bustling in warmer months, but autumn is a great time to visit. And nearby Rocky Mountain National Park is open year-round, though you may need snowshoes to do too much exploring.
If you live in Northwest Colorado…
7. Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Depending on snow, you may need a four-wheel-drive vehicle and/or snow tires to reach this rustic hot springs 7 miles outside of Steamboat Springs. The hot water and natural beauty of the forest make it worth the effort.
8. Colorado National Monument
This amazing collection of canyons and scenic overlooks near Grand Junction is open year-round, though you may not be able to drive the full length of Rim Rock Drive, one of Colorado’s prettiest roads, when snow is heavy.
9. Maroon Bells
White River National Forest outside of Aspen offers perhaps Colorado’s most iconic image (and certainly its most-Instagrammed spot), where the stunning Maroon Bells rise above Maroon Lake. It’s so crowded in summer photographers jostle for position to catch the sunset, but by late fall the landscape is draped in snow and the crowds are (mostly) gone.
If you live in Southwest Colorado…
10. Mesa Verde National Park
The cliff dwellings here are some of the best-preserved ruins in the U.S., telling the story of ancestral Puebloans who lived high above the Four Corners region in a protected mesa hundreds of years before Columbus.
11. The Springs Resort & Spa
This Pagosa Springs hot springs resort has more than two dozen pools, ranging from merely warm to hot enough to make you feel like a Thanksgiving turkey, right in downtown Pagosa Springs. If your visitors are from the eastern half of the country, they probably never experienced anything like it before.
12. Great Sand Dunes National Park
The highest dunes in North America formed where the San Luis Valley meets the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and autumn is a great time to visit, when the sand isn’t so hot it’ll burn your feet and the adjacent mountains are draped in snow.
If you live in Central Colorado…
13. Copper Mountain
This ski area has 2,490 acres of some of the most varied terrain in Colorado, from miles and miles of beginner and intermediate runs to a huge expanse of back bowls and steeps to delight the expert skier. While it might not all be open by Thanksgiving, the resort itself usually has at least some lifts spinning by early November thanks to snow-making.
14. Twin Lakes
Water diversions beneath the Continental Divide have created one of Colorado’s most stunning vistas, between Leadville and Buena Vista, where clear blue water is flanked by a dramatic ring of peaks, including Mount Elbert, the state’s highest.
15. Town of Breckenridge, Colorado
You don’t have to ski to enjoy one of Colorado’s most iconic ski towns. Unlike some towns that grew up around ski areas, Breckenridge has maintained its historic feel, while offering some of the best shopping, dining and nightlife options in ski country.